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If, as I did, you watched the rise of New Labour, the side-lining of Old Labour, and now the tables being turned, you may feel a certain vindication in the wheels coming off the Blairite wagon. With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader came much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Blairite lobby – or ‘Bitterites’ as John Prescott recently called them.
Labour grandees like Tom Watson seemed horrified at the thought of the Labour party being run by an old-school leftie. High-profile members like Robert Webb and Barbara Ellen left rather than accept the democratically-mandated return of the old order. The mainstream media, even the likes of the Guardian and New Statesman, published stories ruing Corbyn’s election, even before it had actually happened as though they’d assumed the form of Chicken Licken and the sky really was about to fall.
I’ve followed this for some time now and (as someone who felt Blairism caused Labour to desert me, not the other way round) I felt a certain schadenfreude at the rout of the Blairites as well. But, being reasonably fair-minded, I did have some questions to ask of those who either made high-profile departures or have stayed, seemingly to fight their democratically-elected leader at every turn.
We’ll start with Peep Show’s Robert Webb. Webb made his departure from the Labour Party public via social media and then the Guardian picked up the story. Via Twitter he complained bitterly about being told he wasn’t helping the party and, I quote:
“Half the members think I’m doing the opposite of helping. And tell me about it very horribly.”
This from the man who spent months insulting Corbyn before leaving the party. Webb has variously referred to him as:
“Almost GM designed by Tories to lose the next election.”
“I think he’s f***ing awful.”
And referred to opponents as:
Did he feel similarly when Old Labour people felt side-lined and sold-out by New Labour? Did he make a similar stand about that? Did he support the idea that there should be a balance between the old and new versions of socialism within the Labour Party? These are serious questions on my part. He’s welcome to answer them.
Now we come to Barbara Ellen who made a similarly high-profile departure via the Guardian. Ellen has, it seems, a somewhat sneering attitude to the politics of principle. Her Guardian piece announcing her resignation referred to, and I quote:
“A bunch of conceited hippies refusing to budge from their favourite beanbags.”
Ellen went further. She dismissed those who might criticise her choice (and it is her choice, it’s a free country, after all) as:
“Leftier than thou.”
And referred to Labour’s recent recruits (many of whom seemingly joined or re-joined to democratically elect Corbyn as Labour leader) as:
“People who thrillingly “found their voice” after shelling out three quid on a whim in the leadership contest.”
Tony Blair, predictably, has also waded in against Corbyn. In the run-up to the leadership election he described a Corbyn victory with the utmost pessimism:
“It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”
He’s also suggested that those whose political heart is with Corbyn should:
“Get a transplant.”
Former Shadow Health Minister Jamie Reed resigned that post after Corbyn’s election. He’s since complained bitterly (and so far not very successfully) that Momentum is an entryist front for the Socialist Workers Party. As a former SWP member, I can’t think of anything less likely to enhance any campaign than their active involvement. Nor do I think that Momentum is merely yet another of the SWP’s seemingly endless stream of ad hoc, made-to-measure fronts. Nor has anybody proved that Momentum actually is a front for the SWP. It is, however, a highly-convenient handful of mud to throw at Momentum and, if they throw enough mud, some might stick.
Reed’s not the only one to make unproven assertions about the allegedly-covert resurgence of the Reds under the Corbynite bed, either. Labour MP for Wakefield Mary Creagh recently stated in the New Statesman that:
“Individuals from smaller hard-left parties with no loyalty to Labour are now operating in the party.”
Which might carry a great deal more weight if she’d named any of these ‘hard-left parties’ or any of the ‘individuals’ she claims to be covertly trying to make the Trotskyite tail wag the Labour dog. But she doesn’t. Beyond a sinister headline (‘The hard-left is now operating within the Labour Party, but it doesn’t reflect our values’) and the previous quote, she provides no evidence of any kind to support her claim.
It seems as though Momentum and their supporters are being characterised as either no credible political threat (having been described by Tom Watson as “a bit of a rabble.”) or, according to Mary Creagh, they’re the Four Horsemen of the Socialist Apocalypse. Well, they can’t be both at once depending on which Labour figure you happen to ask at a given time. To suggest otherwise is inaccurate at best and, at worst, clumsy Red-baiting or a calculated smear, especially without objective evidence to support that claim.
And what of the Labour ‘Maquis’ who are apparently staying within the party to fight Corbyn, his ideas and his supporters? Well, to call themselves the ‘Maquis’ is an insult to the original Maquis who were French resistance fighters hiding out and living in constant danger of military attack, betrayal, torture and execution at the hands of the Nazi occupiers. I somehow doubt that Corbyn’s detractors will need to take to the interior of Epping Forest or the Brecon Beacons for their own safety. Whatever their faults Corbynistas are unlikely to start midnight raids for enemies of the party leadership, set up a torture chamber in the basement of party HQ and turn Dartmoor Prison into a cut-price Gulag. Which makes claims of potential martyrdom both ridiculous and an affront to those who, even today, suffer under similar regimes.
Besides, if Corbyn’s detractors are so righteously indignant about entryists, then I’d love to know their attitude to stay-behind saboteurs who’d sooner ruin their own democratically-elected leader than attempt either compromise or accommodation. Even if this ‘Maquis’ does represent any serious threat to Corbyn’s leadership, they’re hardly on a par with the wartime Maquisards who served their cause by gambling their lives, very often losing them in the most despicable circumstances.
To be honest I’m inclined to wonder how, with so many detractors, Jeremy Corbyn was ever elected Labour leader in the first place. Ah yes, I forgot, it was by the democratic majority vote of the Labour Party membership. That would be the same rank-and-file membership without whom there’d be no Labour Party. The same rank-and-file who put up posters, push reams of leaflets through doors, go canvassing, organise local meetings, give voters lifts to polling stations, pay regular membership dues and who democratically elected Jeremy Corbyn as party leader. The same rank-and-file who the Blairite lobby seem so determined to ignore if possible.
Having spent a decade as a political activist, I worked in many causes with many different groups. Some conventional political groups, others weren’t. They had different structures, different goals, different agendas. But they had one common factor, they all had former Labour Party members who, feeling that Labour had deserted them, were looking for a new political home. The Blairite lobby didn’t seem to mind
New Labour types are facing the same decision now as many Old Labour people faced during the rise of Blairism. Ultimately, they have to choose whether they stay or they go. The current rash of departures is less redolent of some ‘Flight of the Wild Geese’ as of angry, arrogant Blairites, furious at Labour being reclaimed by actual socialists, performing the ‘Flapping Dance of the Damned.’
Blairites, if you want to stay within the Labour Party – then stay. Argue your points, stand your ground, but kindly don’t forget that the party itself is bigger than any of its factions. And, if you’d be so kind, do try to remember that your leader Jeremy Corbyn was actually elected by democratic vote.
Otherwise, don’t let that door hit you on the way out.